Braddock-based group works on filters for the water in Nigeria

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A Point Park University professor is in Nigeria this week, training residents to make water filters that could provide potable water to thousands.

Christopher Rolinson, a professor of photojournalism and photography, is chairman of Braddock-based Potters Water Action Group, where the idea for the filters made of clay, sawdust and colloidal silver was conceived. After the filters are fired, they resemble a colander that filters bacteria out of the water, preventing waterborne diseases.

"It's ancient technology," Mr. Rolinson, of Coraopolis, said. "We're not really doing anything that science hasn't proven already."

The vessels filter 1.5 to 2 liters of water an hour into a 5-gallon bucket with a spigot. Once filtered, the water that comes out of that spigot is potable, Mr. Rolinson said.

During his week in Nigeria, Mr. Rolinson will train people in a suburb of Osogbo. He said the goal is to set up a "filter factory" and teach locals how to make the vessels. After a small group is trained to make the filters, those people can teach others.

"It's really a training program for them," Mr. Rolinson said. Once a filter factory is up and running, it can produce 60 water filters a day. Each filter lasts about two years and is suitable for a family of five.

Mr. Rolinson plans to put his expertise in photojournalism to good use by documenting the experience in photos and video.

"We want to try to document the work that we're doing so we can create a repository of information on how this is done," he said, noting he eventually plans to make a documentary about the history of the water filter.

At the moment, the project is funded by Mr. Rolinson and Dick Wukich, a Slippery Rock University ceramics professor who came up with the idea for the filter factories.

"We're paying our own way to get over there, and we're paying the shipping for the filter press to get over there," Mr. Rolinson said, although he is seeking grant money for the future.

The press is made by Turtle Creek-based E.H. Schwab Co., a metal spinning and stamping company. The original design called for the press to be made from concrete, but that wasn't sustainable -- concrete is heavy, so it was both difficult and expensive to ship to places where filter factories are needed.

"They worked, but they weighed a ton," said Neal Harrison, E.H. Schwab's vice president of sales and operations.

The spun steel mold is the only piece of proprietary technology, Mr. Rolinson said. The rest of the filter can be made of recycled materials available locally.

E.H. Schwab found out about the project through "a friend of a friend" and offered to donate the tool that is required to form the steel mold, Mr. Harrison said, an expense of about $1,500 to $2,000.

"It's a great story, and it's a local project," he said. "It's a good project."

They made prototypes out of aluminum and steel and ultimately decided steel would be the best material for the mold.

"They're plenty sturdy," Mr. Harrison said. "They get a lot of use. I don't think we've ever had to issue a replacement."

Mr. Rolinson said he got involved with the project through community service he was required to do to achieve tenure at Point Park. Though he's now tenured, he said, he continues to volunteer because "it's the right thing to do."

He said the ultimate goal of the project is to develop a youth training program in Braddock that would teach students how to set up filter factories.

"I'm doing it because this is a project I really believe in," he said.



Annie Siebert: or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.


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